Building a Multiracial Working-Class Movement Alongside the Immigrant Rights Movement

“¡Aquí estamos, y no nos vamos! ” is a chant you’ll hear from Latinos in the movement that translates to “We are here and we are not leaving.” We mean it: the immigrants’ rights movement is everywhere, and it’s from and by the working class!

At the August 2019 DSA convention, delegates overwhelmingly passed Resolution #5, “Defense of Immigrants and Refugees,” which reads, in part, that

“the Democratic Socialists of America support the struggle of immigrant communities, including around partial demands as well as the right of immigrants and their communities to lead this struggle and determine its tactics[Emphasis added]

If you look at the immigrants’ rights movement today, you can see that there is no shortage of leaders to learn from as we build the truly multiracial working-class base necessary to win power. The Immigrants’ Rights Working Group (IRWG) of DSA recently hosted several of those leaders for a webinar covering work being done exposing human rights abuses at ICE detention centers, indigenous migrant workers winning union contracts, dairy farm workers in Vermont calling on dairy companies to ensure respect for human rights in their supply chain, and the importance of workers centers as a place for workers to learn about their rights and organizing.

It’s clear that the movement is broad and everywhere, engaging in struggles wherever power can be contested. If we are serious about building a powerful multiracial working-class base, we, too, have to be part of the immigrants’ rights movement. The key word here is “part.” We must be willing to be led by those most affected.


Image courtesy of Reid Jenkins

Here are some steps you and your chapter can take now:

Educate yourselves

Following the 2019 convention, the Steering Committee of the Immigrants’ Rights Working Group (IRWG SC) put together an Organizing Guide to introduce DSAers to the initial steps in understanding and getting involved in the immigrants’ rights movement. This is a living document that will be changed as the situation changes.

Having a basic understanding of the immigrants’ rights movement and the issues of the day will give members context for the moment we are in and help guide chapters and individuals. We understand that some of the more heinous crimes of the Trump administration will end, but the policies and conditions that lead to migration continue.

Connect with the movement

In Atlanta, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) is an immigrant-led grassroots organization that has helped expose human rights abuses in detention centers, organize communities into resistance, and promote civic and political education. “If there’s a vanguard of the working class in Atlanta, it’s those organizations like GLAHR and Mijente, rooted in and led by working class immigrants,” said Metro Atlanta DSA member Daniel Hanley.

GLAHR has been waging an over-10-year campaign against the 287g program, a Federal program that deputizes local law enforcement for ICE. Following GLAHR’s lead, MADSA was part of the coalition victory that saw the Dekalb County Sheriff end cooperation with ICE.

During the 2020 election, GLAHR Action Network and Mijente led a campaign to oust sheriffs who supported 287g in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. This down-ballot work was crucial to the coalition that put Biden over the top in Georgia.

The likelihood is high that there’s ongoing immigrants’ rights work near you. Hanley added that “any coalition work must be undertaken in earnest to support and learn from those closest to the struggle.” If you haven’t already done so, find those links and learn from and connect with those organizing near you.

Make local demands

 The movement is everywhere. There are surely local links to highlight and organize around our demands of abolishing ICE, Closing the Camps, and gaining permanent status and citizenship for all.

On a recent IRWG call we heard from members in Los Angeles engaged in coalition work with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) focused on Black immigrants who continue to be disproportionately arrested by ICE. In Atlanta, coalition efforts contributed to the city ending its contract with ICE and moving toward shutting down the Atlanta City Detention Center.

We also heard from students organizing around Sanctuary Campuses and around MiJente’s national call for #NoTechforICE, raising awareness and fighting to end the cooperation of tech companies with ICE. YDSA Georgia Tech turned out one of the most successful pledge drives, with tech students pledging not to work for Palantir, one of the contractors facilitating ICE in their abuses. Metro Atlanta DSA and YDSA Georgia Tech organized in a coalition that included GLAHR, MiJente, BAJI, labor, and more. 

The immigrants’ rights movement will not shy away from a diversity of tactics with a clear political strategy. Keeping in mind that the risks faced by immigrants, particularly undocumented folks, is growing exponentially, DSAers must understand that those who have the privilege of citizenship cannot endanger those who do not. There is work to plug into right now, if we are willing to learn.